Thoughts on NOT volunteering (for a change)

For the past 4 years or so, I’ve been a volunteer at several places. From a guide in a cave to a project organiser for a youth union, to content editor for an LGBT organisation. I don’t think there’s been a time since 2011 where I wasn’t volunteering for something.

And now I’ve officially quit the last one, and am now without any volunteer work.

This is a very strange feeling for me, obviously. I had my reasons to quit for all of them, and they are valid, good reasons. But I still feel a bit lost without this constant pressure of I need to do so much work.

I had a discussion about volunteering the other day with a colleague (she volunteered for over 5 years as well, and also recently quit). We agreed that, in all honesty? Most companies who rely on volunteers are absolutely abysmal at actually treating their volunteers well.

I might be a bit spoiled. My first ever volunteering gig included employee parties (dinner & something fun) twice a year. We got a small amount of money every day just for showing up, and got to keep all the tips we got from customers. It was a tight group of people, both regular employees and volunteers, and we regularly went out to dinner together and organised fun trips outside of workhours.

I’ve never seen this kind of easy-going camaraderie again.

What I have seen includes unfulfilled promises, the planning of a group outing that never did end up happening, pure frustration because no one responds to e-mails and it takes months to get the answer to a very simple question like “who’s currently in control of the Twitter acount” (I still don’t have answers to a lot of these questions). I’ve seen vague deflections, a lot of “it’s very complicated/we just don’t have the volunteers to do that” and most importantly: a LOT of “ugh why is this person even here”.

I’ve heard stories of people who had to pay for their own once-a-year party. I’ve heard stories of people being expected to be ready for the company at any given moment, just be told “oh but you’re just a volunteer”.

In all honesty: volunteers are heroes. They give up their own free time and often their own money for the sake of a company, and never expect anything back. Which makes it all the more important for the company/organisation to make sure they give plenty in return. Be thankful to your volunteers, treat them well, and they’ll stick with you and work for you. The same goes for regular employees, let’s be real, but for volunteers? Possibly even more so. Yet so few companies actually do so.

So now, here I am. Volunteer-work-free for the first time in over 4 years. It feels strange.

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